Friday, May 30, 2008

Improving Performance - Proper Caloric Intake

This is the third article in a series on improving your long-distance training and racing. I hope you find this information useful.

Endurance and ultraendurance athletes require all three forms of fuel the human body uses for energy: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. A major factor for optimal performance is using the right fuel, at the right time, in the right amount. Like every aspect of success in endurance events, proper nutrition requires planning, practice, and training to reap the benefits on race day. This article will give you the background information you need about fueling, and concludes with some recommendations about what and how much to use.

As most athletes know, “carbs are king” when it comes to fueling the body for any endurance exercise. That does not mean, however, that any carbohydrate at any time will keep you going. Carbohydrates can either help or hinder performance, depending on what kind you use, how much you use, and when you use them. For example, far too many misinformed athletes continue to use energy products loaded with simple sugars, or they use complex carbs, a superior choice, but at the wrong time and in the wrong amounts. These practices will actually impair, not help, your performance.

Simple sugars, maltodextrin, and osmolality
Most dietary sugars are simple molecules known as onosaccharides and disaccharides. The shorter the chain length of a carbohydrate source, the higher it will raise a chemical measure known as osmolality when dissolved. In solution, simple sugars can only attain about 6-8% concentration or they will sit undigested in your stomach, as the osmolality will be incompatible with the digestive juices. Products containing simple sugars, typically sucrose, fructose, and/or glucose (dextrose), must be extremely dilute to match body fluid osmolality (280 – 303 mOsm). This weak of a concentration presents a problem to athletes because it cannot provide sufficient calories (perhaps only 100 cal/hour) to working muscles. To obtain enough calories from a weak 6-8% solution, an athlete would have to consume two or more bottles of fuel per hour, which means excess fluids, increasing the risk of fluid intoxication. Using simple sugar-based “energy drinks” is not a wise strategy.

“Well then,” you might say, “I’ll just mix a stronger concentration.” But this approach also fails. As mentioned in the “10 Biggest Mistakes” article, making a double or triple strength mixture from a simple sugar-based carbohydrate fuel won’t work because the concentration of that mixture will exceed 6-8%, far too concentrated to match body fluid osmolality. It will remain in the stomach until sufficiently diluted, which may cause substantial stomach distress. Drinking more water to dilute your overconcentrated concoction puts you back in the original condition of increased risk of overhydration and all the problems that causes, so that’s not a good option. But if you don’t drink more, your body will draw fluids and electrolytes from other areas (like blood and muscle) that are in critical need and divert them to the digestive system to lower the osmolality of your over-concentrated simple sugar drink. This also will result in a variety of stomach distresses, not to mention increased cramping potential and other performance-trashing issues. The simple fact is that using simple sugar-based products is simply futile! Endurance athletes who try to fulfill calorie/energy requirements with sugar-based drinks, gels, and powder mixes usually end up with a variety of complaints and poor performances.

Molecules that contain many sugar units chained together are called polysaccharides, known familiarly as complex carbs and starches. One of these, maltodextrin, can make up to a 20% solution concentration and still match digestive system osmolality. This allows very efficient passage from the digestive tract to the liver, which converts some of the maltodextrin to glycogen for storage and some directly to glucose for immediate use by the muscles. With polysaccharides you get much more energy from stomach to liver, thus providing maximal amounts of energy to be produced, and in a form your body can efficiently process.

Based on caloric delivery alone, complex carbohydrates such as maltodextrin are far superior to simple carbohydrates (simple sugars). But that’s not all. Simple sugars, even in small amounts, can incite a condition known as “insulin spike.” This sudden recruitment of insulin causes a subsequent dramatic drop in blood sugar, which can take bloodsugar levels even below the fasting level! This “flash and crash” type of energy typically results in the dreaded “bonk,” something every athlete wants to avoid. However, complex carbs, which enter the bloodstream at a 15-20% solution, do not promote this wild fluctuation in blood sugar levels. Even though a maltodextrin might have a high GI (discussed later) and rapidly elevate blood sugar levels (a desirable effect), during exercise your body processes them with far less insulin fluctuation, most likely due to the steady release and breakdown of glucose from its polymeric source, and other hormonal factors. You never get the below-baseline drop in blood glucose that simple sugars cause.

Some athletic nutritionists disregard osmolality, but we do not believe its importance can be overstated. As Bill Misner, Ph.D., states, “when osmolality goes above 303 or below 280 mOsm, the gut must pull minerals and fluids… to mediate a narrow 280-303 mOsm range for immediate calorie absorption.” Both simple sugars and complex carbohydrate maltodextrins are absorbed at equal rates if the solution concentration matches body fluid osmolality (280-303 mOsm). As mentioned earlier, simple sugars meet this criterion only when they are mixed in calorically weak 6-8% concentrations; digestion slows down or ceases at higher concentrations. When athletes make a double or triple strength simple sugar based drink, trying to increase caloric input, they usually develop problems such as gastric distress, bloating, flatulence, vomiting, and muscle cramps.

On the other hand, the maltodextrins (complex carbohydrates) match body fluid osmolality even when mixed in concentrations as high as 15-20%. This presents a distinct advantage because your body is able to digest, and thus convert to energy, a greater volume of calories from complex carbohydrates than it can from simple sugars.

Simple sugars = Ineffective fuel
The bottom line is that simple sugars are a very inefficient fuel source. Using them to fuel your body is like trying to heat your house by burning newspapers in your stove. You get a fast heat, but it burns out quickly, and you have to continually feed the fire. Not good! Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are similar to putting a nice big log on the fire in that they burn longer and more evenly, with the declination in “heat” (energy levels) being much more gradual. They provide a more consistent and longer lasting energy supply, without putting you at risk for stomach distress. Some manufacturers formulate their sports drinks with complex carbs, but almost all of them lade their products with cheap, inefficient simple sugars. Read the label before you buy. If there’s anything that ends in “ose” in the ingredient list, put it back on the shelf. contain no added simple sugars.

Glycemic index
People often ask about the Glycemic Index (GI) of various carbohydrates and how those figures relate to fueling for endurance exercise. Here’s the scoop: GI rates the speed at which the body breaks down a carbohydrate into glucose. The lower the GI, the slower the process, and
therefore the more stable the energy release. For food eaten at times other than exercise and recovery, GI is an important dietary factor, and we recommend eating foods with a low-to-middle GI.

However, during and immediately following exercise, a high-GI carbohydrate—one that elevates blood sugar levels rapidly—is desirable, as long as you keep caloric intake within approximately 280 cal/hour, as hormones associated with sympathetic nervous system activity will inhibit GI impact on insulin release. Negative diet/health-specific effects associated with consumption of high GI carbohydrates are not a concern during and immediately after exercise; high GI carbs actually perform better than low GI carbs at these times.

Long-chain, high-GI maltodextrins have a GI value of about 130, compared to glucose (100) or sucrose (62). This means that maltodextrins raise blood insulin more effectively than simple sugars, but without the rapid and precipitous drop that is a common (and deleterious) effect of simple sugars. Also, as mentioned earlier, maltodextrins allow you to absorb a greater volume of calories than you can from simple sugars.

Some suggest that since maltodextrin is many chains of glucose “hooked” together, it takes the body longer to break those chains down for conversion to glucose (which all carb sources eventually become in the body). However, it needs to be noted that the bonds that compose maltodextrin are very weak so they are readily broken apart. Additionally, the amylose-amylopectin content of maltodextrin is very similar in chemistry to human stored glycogen, which is the first fuel the body recruits and uses when exercise begins. Therefore, if the body’s first-used source of fuel is “complex” in nature, it can be safely assumed that the body can break it, and endogenously supplied complex carbohydrates, down with remarkable ease.

How much to consume?
Now that you know what kind of carbohydrate to use, the next question is, “How much?” With some allowances provided for very large athletes, the human body can only return (from the liver to muscle tissue) about 4.0 - 4.6 carbohydrate calories per minute, or about 240-280 cal/hr. When most athletes consume more than 280 cal/hr from carbohydrates during an event, the excess remains undigested in the stomach, or passes unused into the bowel, where, in the unmincing words of Dr. Bill Misner, “they accumulate in gastric or intestinal channels in 100-degree temperatures and putrefy in time.”

You may be burning up to 800 cal/hr, but your body cannot replace that amount during exercise. Trying to replenish calories at the same rate as depletion only causes problems. Instead of having more energy available, you’ll have a bloated stomach, and perhaps even nausea and vomiting. You’ve seen it happen, but it’s not a necessary aspect of intense competition; more likely it’s the result of improper caloric intake.

Complex carbohydrates only or a combination of carbohydrate sources: Which is better for the endurance athlete?
Findings from research conducted by the Dutch sport scientist Asker Jeukendrup has caused quite a stir. In fact a few companies now produce sports drinks that contain the carbohydrate formulations used in the studies. In general, Jeukendrup found that a blend of carbohydrates increased oxidation rates, indicating higher energy production. In one study, cyclists who ingested a 2:1 mixture of maltodextrin to fructose oxidized carbohydrate up to 1.5 grams/minute. Another study used a mixture of glucose, fructose, and sucrose and had rates that peaked at 1.7 g/min. Both those results are pretty eye opening, considering that complex carbohydrates typically oxidize at a rate of about 1.0 g/min.

However, there’s more to the results than what first meets the eye. Most of Jeukendrup’s subjects cycled at low intensity, only 50-55% maximum power output, which I think we’d all agree is very much a recovery pace, if that.

To be blunt, at a leisurely 50% VO2 Max pace, athletes can digest cheeseburgers and pizza with no gastric issues. However, if the heart rate and core temperature are raised to only 70% VO2 Max, the body must divert core accumulated heat from central to peripheral. This reduces the blood volume available to absorb ingested carbohydrates or whatever the athlete has consumed.

After two decades of experience, we have found that in the overwhelming majority of the athletes we’ve worked with—athletes engaged in typical 75-85% efforts and/or in multi-hour endurance events—the combination of simple sugars and long chain carbohydrates, and in amounts higher than approximately 1.0 – 1.1 grams per minute (roughly 4.0 – 4.6 calories per minute), have not yielded positive results. They did, however, increase performance-inhibiting, stomach-related maladies.

Lowell Greib, MSc ND, explains that gastric emptying is a key limiting step in carbohydrate metabolism: “If your stomach can’t empty the product (no matter what it is) you are going to get nothing from it except a huge gut ache and possibly lots of vomiting! Unless there is new research that I am unaware of, gastric emptying is directly proportional to the osmolality of the solution in the stomach. Long chain carbohydrate (maltodextrin) contributes less to increasing the osmolality than do disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, maltose, etc.).”

Augmenting Greib’s statements, Dr. Bill Misner writes, “Absorption rate and how fast the liver can ‘kick it out’ are limiting factors. No matter what you eat, how much or how little, the body
provides glucose to the bloodstream at a rate of about 1 gram/minute. Putting more calories in than can generate energy taxes gastric venues, electrolyte stores, and fluid levels.”

Bottom line is not whether or not Jeukendrup’s published studies are disputable, but rather if these studies apply to faster paced, longer duration bouts of exercise. We do not believe this to be the case, which is why we do not recommend the use of multiple carbohydrate sources during exercise. Stick with complex carbohydrate fuels, and we guarantee you’ll see better results.

Fatty acids for fuel
If we can’t replace all of the calories we expend, then how do we keep going our after hour? The answer is that we have an enormous supply of calories in body fat. The typical athlete can count on a reserve of up to 100,000 calories in the form of stored fatty acids—that’s enough, if you could process it all, to fuel a run from Portland, OR to Los Angeles, CA—a distance of almost 1000 miles! These fatty acids are the fuel of choice when exercise goes beyond about two hours,
providing approx 60-65% of your caloric expenditure. In other words, your body has a vast reservoir of calories availablerom body fat stores, and it will use those liberally to satisfy energy requirements during lengthy workouts and races.

However, for this process to continue without compromise or interruption, you must not consume excess calories. If you try to match energy losses with caloric replacement from your fuel, you will not only cause a variety of stomach-related ailments, you will also inhibit the efficient utilization of fats for fuel. As mentioned in “The 10 Biggest Mistakes” article, caloric donation from consumed fuels must cooperate with your internal fat-to-fuel conversion system. Do not attempt to completely replace caloric expenditure. Your best strategy is to replenish calories in amounts that support efficient energy production and do not interfere with the use of fatty acids for fuel.

Protein for fuel
When exercise goes beyond 90-120 minutes, you need to incorporate some protein into the fuel mix. After about 90 minutes, and continuing until you stop your activity, about 5-15% of your
caloric utilization comes from protein. This process, called gluconeogenesis, is unavoidable, and if you don’t supply the needed protein in your fuel, your body will literally scavenge it from your own muscle tissue. This is called catabolism (muscle breakdown), known informally, but quite accurately, as “protein cannibalization.” It can cause premature muscle fatigue (due to excess ammonia production from the protein breakdown process) as well as muscle depletion and post-exercise soreness. Protein cannibalization also compromises your immune system, leading to increased risk for colds, flu, and other diseases. For exercise and competition that extends about two hours or more, your primary fuel should incorporate protein in a ratio of about 8:1 (by weight) carbs to protein.

The benefits of soy protein during endurance exercise
As noted earlier, it’s good to have a little protein along with your complex carbs to avoid the negative effects of muscle catabolism, but you must have the right kind of protein. The preferred protein for use during prolonged exercise is soy, primarily because its metabolization does not readily produce ammonia. Whey protein, with its high glutamine content, makes an excellent post-workout protein, but is not a good choice before or during exercise. You’re already producing ammonia during exercise, so consuming glutamine-enhanced whey protein will only exacerbate that problem.

There is some confusion regarding the glutamine and ammonia buildup. Yes, glutamine does eventually scavenge ammonia. The key word, however, is eventually.” When glutamine metabolizes, it increases ammonia initially, then scavenges more than originally induced, but it takes approximately three hours or so to accomplish this. You’re already producing ammonia during endurance exercise, and since ammonia is a primary culprit in premature fatigue, it seems logical that you’d not want to increase ammonia levels even more. However, that’s exactly what you’ll do when you consume glutamine supplements or glutamine-enhanced whey protein during exercise. That’s one reason why soy protein is preferable for use during prolonged exercise.

Soy protein has a couple of other great features, too. First, it is an easily digestible protein. Second, it has an excellent amino acid profile, with a substantial proportion of branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, which your body readily converts for energy. During exercise, nitrogen is removed from BCAAs and used in the production of another amino acid, alanine, high amounts of which also occur naturally in soy protein. The liver converts alanine into glucose, which the bloodstream transports to the muscles for energy.

BCAAs and glutamic acid, another amino acid found in significant quantities in soy protein, also aid in the replenishing of glutamine within the body, without the risk of ammonia production caused by orally ingested glutamine.

Soy’s amino acid profile has high amounts of both alanine and histidine, which are the amino acid components of the dipeptide known as carnosine, a nutrient known for its antioxidant and acid buffering benefits also has a high level of aspartic acid, which plays an important role in energy production via the Krebs cycle. Additionally, soy protein has high levels of phenylalanine, which may aid in maintaining alertness during extreme ultra distance races.

Lastly, soy produces more uric acid than whey protein. This might not sound good, but uric acid is actually an antioxidant that helps neutralize the excessive free radicals produced during exercise. High uric acid levels, from soy’s naturally occurring isoflavones, are another strong reason for preferring soy protein during endurance exercise.

Source: The Endurance Athlete's Guide To Sucess by Steve Born

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Weekly Update - May 11

The GAC 6 Hour Race capped off a great week of running for me. Total miles for the week were the most I have covered since my tenuous return to running earlier in the year.

Weekly Recap:

Total Miles 30
Days Run 5
Average per day 6
Trail miles 60%

Saturday, May 17, 2008

G.A.C. Mother's Day 6 Hour Race

My plan was to use the G.A.C. 6 hour race as another test of my recovery from plantar fasciitis and a cervical spine condition. I planned to run the 3 mile loop course in Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield at an easy pace and monitor my arch and neck pain. Earlier in the week I completed a 6+ mile trail run at Breakheart Reservation on difficult terrain and did not have any negative side effects. The loop for the G.A.C. run would be on easy non-technical trails. I thought I would be able to run at least 3 loops and possibly a 4th if I ran conservatively.

I arrived at the park a little later than planned. I called my friends Mary and Robyn who I was meeting for the run. Mary and I had been regular weekend training partners until I got injured last year. Robyn and I also logged many miles together during our lunch time runs in Boston. Both are accomplished runners with numerous marathon finishes, including many Boston Marathons over the years. Mary has also coached many new runners to successful first-time marathon finishes. Robyn has even finished a 50 mile trail Ultra in the rugged woods of Minnesota. Both had just arrived at the park around the same time as me. We all laced up out trail shoes and walked to the starting area.

The weather on race day could not have been better. The sun was shining brightly, there was very little wind and the temperature was a comfortable 55 degrees. This being just a training run for us the start should have been uneventful. There was no need to get to the front of the starting line and race to the narrow trail head. We stood in the back of the pack waiting for the start signal. The race started with a simple “GO” from Coach Gilly. I looked down at my wrist to start my Garmin and noticed I wasn’t wearing it. I then realized I left it on the hood of my truck while it acquired a satellite fix. I yelled to Mary and Robyn that I forgot my watch and had to go back to the parking lot to retrieve it. They both looked at me in amazement with a “Way to go Dan” look on their faces. So as they headed off into the woods with the rest of the pack, I ran in the opposite direction to my truck. Thankfully, my Garmin was where I left it. I grabbed the watch and headed back to the starting line. I noted that 5 minutes had already elapsed on the finishing clock. I then walked an additional 2 minutes as I fumbled with my watch trying to get it set correctly. I had a lot of ground to make up.

I would have to run the first loop much harder than I planned if I was to catch up with the pack. I was hoping I could get a glimpse of where my friends were on the course. I was passing slower runners and searching for Mary and Robyn through the long line of runners whenever the trail straightened. I could not see either of them. There was no way I could make up 5 minutes on them in a 3 mile loop. I knew I couldn’t maintain this pace for more than one lap if I wanted to complete 3 of 4 loops. I decided to run the first 3 miles hard and then slow to a manageable pace whether or not I met up with Mary and Robyn before then.

As I worked my way through runners, I meet up with Emily Trespas. I first met Emily last fall at the Stone Cat 50 miler and marathon. We were there supporting some friends running the fall classic. Emily took some nice photos at the race. You can view them HERE. We chatted for a while but got separated as the trail got more crowded with other runners. She is a nice person and I hope to see her again at future races. Emily went on to finish 50K at the race. Great job Emily! (Complete results HERE.) A short while later I caught up to my friend Larry. Larry is a regular at the weekly summer cross-country and trail races at Lynn Woods Reservation. He is a very determined runner, tough as nails, in my opinion. He always runs with a lot of heart. I hadn’t seen Larry since last summer so it was a pleasant surprise to run into him here. We discussed how many laps we would attempt to run today. We both said we would be happy to do 3 or 4. I later learned that Larry did 5 loops (15 miles). Hey Larry, keep up the good work!

As I was completing my first lap, and approaching the start/finish line, I saw Mary and Robyn standing nearby. I was happy to see them knowing I would have company for the next lap. We stopped at the aid station for a quick drink and some pretzels for me before heading out for our second lap. Robyn took the lead and picked up the pace once the trail widened. Robyn is mainly a roadie (don’t hate her for that) and I thought she would be taking it easy. I was wrong! We were passing many runners all the while Mary and I were thinking “Why so fast”? She was really moving. I thought maybe she had a bee up her shorts. Or am I just getting slower…Hmm? Despite the quick pace, the run was going well until suddenly and unexpectedly Robyn’s toe must have caught a rock. She fell hard onto the trail. I though for sure she would be hurt. Fortunately, she landed slight off the trail on a grassy patch. She had some small scrapes and a little blood, but nothing major. We laughed it off, sort of, and were on our way again.

As I said earlier, the course was easy, relatively flat with some gentle slopes and only one steep, short climb. I wanted to walk the steepest hill. Not because it was very difficult, but because I was worried running on such a steep incline would cause problems with my plantar fascia. The ladies were kind enough to walk up the hill with me although I knew it must have been killing Mary to do so. She is like the Energizer Bunny on hills. I mean she can really tear it up. If you don’t believe me check out my Countdown to Northern Nipmuck post.

The next two laps were uneventful. I was just trying to hold back Mary and Robyn. This was a training run for us but they can get pretty competitive at times. If they see a female runner ahead of them they usually will pick up the pace and run her down. They weren’t interested in doing that today so I was thankful. We debated about doing a 5th lap but I was feeling lucky that I had made it to this point with only a slight pain in my right arch. I didn’t want to press my luck going any longer and perhaps making my plantar fasciitis worse. We all decided to call it a day at 12 miles.

G.A.C. events are always a great time. Their organization, volunteers and aid stations are the best of any trail races I’ve run. I had a great time running in perfect weather with two good friends. I was encouraged by the lack of pain I had during the run. After all, I have been trying to heal from my injuries for 10 months. I have been very careful with my training, pushing my body when it seemed capable of being pushed, and resting when I felt that was the best course of action. Perhaps this run was an indication that I am finally turning the corner although I’m not completely out of the woods.

Run Gently.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Road to Recovery?

I had a day off from work earlier in the week. It was a beautiful, sunny day around 65 degrees. Since it was so nice I decided to go for a run. I have been doing about 90% of my runs on the track at the Belmonte Middle School here in my town. I have been running there because the track has a soft synthetic surface. I have been avoiding the roads and trails due to a few medical problems. I have been waging a long-term battle with plantar fasciitis and cervical spinal stenosis. The flat, softer surface of the track keeps the pain in my feet and neck to a manageable level.

As I drove to the track I was thinking about how many laps I had run there in the past three months. Running more laps today, especially in this beautiful weather was something I was not looking forward to. Sure, I am happy to be running again even if it is on a track, but I thought I would be capable of much more by now. It has been nearly a year since I was first injured. No running, physical therapy, ultrasound and laser treatments, several medications and wearing a night splint and cervical collar have done little to improve my condition. It has been a difficult and discouraging year for me. After all that, I’m still not ready to throw in the towel so don’t write my eulogy yet.

As I approached the track I could sense the call of the woods arriving on gentle spring breezes. Yes, I do miss the trails at Breakheart Reservation but should I run there? My last two runs there were very unpleasant. My symptoms worsened for about a week after doing a short run on some easy trails. I thought it was a bad idea to attempt it again but since I was wearing my trail shoes anyway, I said, “What the @&%$”. I was off to the woods!

Once I arrived at Breakheart I decided to run some of the more difficult trails even though my past runs on easy trails caused pain. I started on the Ridge Trail. This trail is a mix of single and double track and is pretty rocky with some short steep hills. Care must be taken on some parts of this trail. If you look away for too long you could end up taking a long fall off the side of a high cliff. It is probably the most technical of all the trails in the reservation. The Ridge Trail is also one of the longest at nearly two mile in length. It was immediately apparent to me that the many hours of running on the smooth, flat track at Belmonte had not prepared me well for this trail. I began to breathe very heavy on the first hill and had to resort to power-hiking most to the climb. Once on the rocky outcropping of the ridge I had to scramble up the rocks. There was no way I could run them. This trail also requires some rock hopping in certain locations. I was not confident enough to try it and did not want to risk further injury so I walked most of these sections. I fact, I did a lot of walking on the steepest sections of the trail. I was relieved to make it to the power lines. This meant I had made it through the trail unscathed. It was just a short descent down to the paved road. I checked my
Garmin for the time. Thirty-three minutes to cover 1.8 miles. Damn, I’m slow!

Pictures from the Ridge Trail Below:

After short run on pavement, I turned onto the northwest section of the Saugus River trail. I like this trail because it is mostly single track that twists and turns and goes up and down. It’s also covered with pine needles, very easy running on my damaged feet. I picked up the pace here and tried to make up some time. This trail is clearly marked with yellow blazes on the trees. I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I soon found myself at a dead end. I could have backtracked to pick up the trail but instead decided to bushwhack my way out. I was pretty sure I knew where I was and could reacquire the trail again. After a short trek through brush, around some standing water and over a few downed pine trees I found the trail. More lost time but this is just a training run so I didn’t really care. The rest of the trail was dirt covered single track so I cranked up the pace once again. I ran up the stone steps at the end of the trail and made it to the paved road again. I turned right, ran downhill, and headed to the beach at Pearce Lake.

Pictures from the Saugus River Trail Below:

I ran across the sand at the beach and connected with the Pearce Lake Trail. This trail, as you may have guessed, runs the perimeter on the lake. It is fairly flat, mostly single track, with a lot of roots. At the beginning of the trail there are two small brooks that drain the overflow from the lake. They then merge into a single larger stream. The water level was low so I only had to skip a few rocks to cross. After running a short section of the trail I turned onto the Eagle Rock Trail. Once again the climb put me into an anaerobic state and I was soon forced into a power hike. I was really gasping for air when I strarting laughing to myself. It’s not that I was happy to be walking, but because I was thinking of last year’s Northern Nipmuck 16 mile trail race in Bigelow Hollow State Park. I was running the race with my friend Mary. We had done many long runs together prior to the race and we were in good shape at the time. We had run about 13 miles of the race when I began to get tired. I didn't have much to eat or drink and I was getting very fatigued. Each time we came to a big uphill I found it difficult to maintain pace with Mary and she put distance between us. Finally, at a very long, steep hill I just lost it. Mary had no idea she was pulling away and leaving me behind. When she got to the top of the hill, she turned back expecting to see me right behind her. I was still far down the hill. I motioned to her with my hands to keep going, not having enough oxygen to yell up to her to go on without me. We still laugh about it whenever the Nipmuck race is mentioned. Ok, back to my climb up Eagle Rock!

Pictures from Pearce Lake Trail Below:

I finally made it to the top of the hill (206’). I stopped at the top to rest a bit, have a drink of
Succeed and to take in the beautiful views. To the left was the lake and straight ahead I could see the Boston skyline. I began my descent down the hill which is all rock, and jagged I might add. I walked down to the bottom of the hill and got back onto the Pearce Lake trail. I ran this section fairly hard even though it’s uneven with lots of roots. I soon came upon some runoff from the road and picked my way across the stones keeping my feet dry. The pine trees are dense here and the pine needles can hide some gnarly roots. I stubbed my toe here but not bad enough to lose my balance. That was my only misstep the entire run. I usually fall a lot. Just kidding! Back on the pavement again and a short run over to the section Saugus River trail I haven’t run yet.

Pictures from Eagle Rock Below:

This section of trail runs along the banks of the Saugus River. Fortunately the weather has been dry and the water level has dropped since my last run here. I don’t really like this trail all that much. Lots of roots and rocks that require me to remain focused on the ground. I don’t like looking down for extended periods of time because it bothers my neck quite a bit. I took my time on the banks of the river and then picked up the pace once the trail widened and the footing was better. I climbed up the hill, picking my way thought the exposed rocks where the water had cut a deep grove into the soil. I was happy to know I was getting closer to the finish as I turned onto the Lodge Trail. At one time there was a hunting lodge here when the land was owned by a wealthy industrialist. Now, the only evidence of the lodge is the remains of the stone stairs that welcomed hunters and fishermen into the lodge. I really flew on this soft, easy trail but I knew this pace wouldn’t last. I was about to climb the steepest hill in the woods, Breakheart Hill at around a 45 degree incline! I didn’t even try to run any part of the hill. I walked it, zigzagging my way to the top. Getting down was even more of a challenge as the descent is very steep and rocky. I took my time getting off the hill. I didn’t want to take a tumble here being so close the end of the run. I was very pleased to see the Ranger’s station knowing I survived my first true test on the trails in nearly a year.

Pictures from Saugus River Trail Below:

My run covered 6.3 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain and the same amount of elevation loss. It took me one hour and thirty-nine minutes to complete. Hey, I told you I walked a lot. Overall, I was very pleased with the run. I never had any foot pain and my neck pain was minimal. Maybe I’m on the road to recovery. Only time will tell.

Course View and Elevation Profile:

Sorry, I wanted to get pictures of the entire course but my camera battery died along the way. I should really check it once and a while.

Happy Trails!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

LaSportiva New England Mountain Running Circuit

In three weeks the highly competitive New England Mountain Race Circuit will begin in Princeton, MA with the Wachusett Mountain 4.3 mile race.

The 2008 LaSportiva USATF New England Mountain Running Circuit is the 13th annual series promoting competition in New England Mountain Running. The circuit consists of six races, with runners' points scored from their best five races. The Northfield Mountain race repeats as the USATF-NE Trail Championship, and the Loon Mountain Race serves as the NE Mountain Championship. A series overview, course descriptions, profiles, and color pix can be found on the
La Sportiva site.

The 2008 race schedule and Race Directors are listed below:

May 24 - Wachusett Mountain, Princeton MA, 4.3 miles, 9:30 a.m.Contact: Kevin Fallon 508-835-4262

June 1 - Pack Monadnock, Wilton to Temple NH, 10 Mile, 9:00 a.m. Contact: Damien Rowe - Gate City Striders

June 7 - Northfield Mountain Run, Northfield MA, 9:00 a.m.USATF-NE Trail Running Champs. 10.3Km (6.4 miles) - Contact: Dave Dunham

June 29 - Cranmore Hill Climb North Conway NH, 10K men and women. USATF and USATF-NE Mountain Running ChampionshipMulti-loop up-and-down. 21st annual. Sponsored by Inov-8. Contact: Paul Kirsch

July 6 - Loon Mountain Race NH, 12 km (all uphill). Contact: Dave Dunham or Paul Kirsch Info and story

July 12 - Mt.Ascutney Run to the Summit, Windsor VT, 3.8 mile, 9:30 a.m. Registration; Contact:

Courses and more race info available here.

La Sportiva USATF New England Circuit rules and scoring:
Runners score points based on their time as a percentage of the winner's overall time, making every second count! For example, a winning time of 41:08 gets 100.00 points; a time of 42:21 is worth 97.13, and 1:20:32 gets 51.08 (the winning time being just about 50 percent of that runner's time. Women's scoring is now based on 100.00 points for the first female finisher. A runner's top 5 of 6 races are totaled.

AWARDS: A combination of cash and gift certificates will be divided among the top 3 men and women in the overall series scoring. USATF New England provides awards for the top finisher in the Open, Masters, Seniors, and Veterans age groups. The circuit awards special T-shirts to "Mountain Goats", USATF members who run all six circuit races.Title and primary sponsor is La Sportiva, with additional support at events from Teva, Inov-8, and the All-American Trail Running Association (AATRA)


The six race, USATF New England mountain running circuit wrapped up at the top of Mount Ascutney, Vermont, on July 15 with Paul Low (CMS) and Dawn Heinrich (PRMM) at the apex of the scoring charts. The top 5 scores were included in the totals.
Low (CMS) again was just one place away from a perfect circuit record; his second place finish at the Cranmore Hill Climb / USA Championship left him with a total of 499.74 points. Circuit founder Dave Dunham (CMS) was second overall as well as masters winner (472.87). The 60+ division was the closest for the men, with Peter Orni (CMS) edging Vincent Rivard (NMC) by less than 2 points. All three of those took their third consecutive series age group titles.
Women's winner Abby Woods (GSH) had to make every second count, edging masters winner and past Olympian in nordic skiing Dorcas Wonsavage (CSU) by a slim .3 points over the 5 race totaling. Lisa Doucett (CSU) continued dominance among the 50+ crowd.
Champions are determined by totaling points earned with the best five counting. The points were determined based on the finisher's percent behind the winner (Example: the winner runs 1:00:00 and Runner-X runs 2:00:00. Runner-X gets 50 points). Women are scored based on the winning woman's time to give them equivalent scores to the men.
USATF New England Mountain running champions (500 possible points)WomenOpen: Abby Woods, GSH, 452.73; 40+: Dorcas Wonsavage, CSU, 452.43; 50+: Lisa Doucett, CSU, 381.70; 60+: Carol Kane, WMAC, 72.67; 70+: Barbara Robinson, GCST, 247.66MenOpen: Paul Low, CMS, 499.74; 40+: Dave Dunham, CMS, 472.89; 50+: Marty Ellowitz, CMS, 396.64; 60+: Peter
Orni, CMS, 354.16; 70+: Paul McDermott, NMC, 260.49;

Thursday, May 1, 2008

El Caminto del Rey - The King's Pathway

If running trails or ultras is not challenging enough for you, or if you are looking for a new adventure, perhaps a hike along the King’ Pathway in Malaga, Spain will interest you. I’m not a big fan of heights, nor do I have a death wish, so I will stick to trails myself. I did my best to get more details on the walkway's history, construction etc. but could only locate this entry in Wikipedia.

El Caminito del Rey (
English: The King's pathway) is a walkway or via ferrata, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Álora in Málaga, Spain. The name is often shortened to Camino del Rey.

1901 it was obvious that the workers of the Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls needed a walkway to cross between the falls, to provide transport of materials, vigilance and maintenance of the channel. Construction of the walkway lasted four years. It was finished in 1905. In 1921 the king Alfonso XIII had to cross the walkway for the inauguration of the dam Conde del Guadalhorce, and it became known by its present name.

In some places the walkway has collapsed
The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. It is one meter (3 ft) in width, and is over 700 feet (200 m) above the river. Nearly all of the path has no handrail. Some parts of the walkway have completely collapsed and have been replaced by a beam and a metallic wire on the wall. Many people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent years. After four people died in two accidents in
1999 and 2000, the local government closed the entrances. However, adventurous tourists still find their way into the walkway.

Watch the video and let me know if you would like to do a “trail” run there!

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