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To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Signs of an endurance sufferfest

Alot of races take thier toll on the body - but true endurance events leave a few special hallmarks that let you know that what you've just done is in a different league from your run of the mill marathon.  Here's a list of what you can expect when you cross over to the dark side of things....
    Under attack during the 2010 AH135
  1. Sleepmonsters:  i can race easy for about 36 hours without having a major battle with these beasties.  but if i'm racing hard, 4-6 hours or so after the setting of the sun i'll start to see them slipping from behind the trees - shadowy creatures slightly darker than the night - beguiling me to close my eyes and rest.  On the arrowhead, i made it to mel george, through 5 hours of black just fine, only to be besieged by these demons in broad daylight 20 miles from the finish.  Tom had his first experience with them en-route to mel george - the little 10 foot bubble of soft white light provided by his headlamp almost soothing him to sleep.  it's a crazy experience to be riding/running/paddling and feel like you're steadily sliding down a slippery slope towards sleep - like trying to run up a slide in socks - staying put in the strange realm of partial consciousness is all you can really hope for.  i've managed to make progress (albeit painfully slow progress) for 12 hours in such a state, and even (during primal quest in 2006) managed a 10 mile hike with absolutely no memory of it - i imagine some lower part of my mind kept me upright and on the trail, with nothing being recorded cognitively.  Good stuff.
  2. Crazy skin:  Not sure how else to describe this one, but in long races your skin will eventually feel funky - tingly, hypersensetive, almost as if it's not your skin.  i have a few theories on why this occurs - one has to do with constant contact with rather tight fitting base-layer type clothing for days, another with decreased blood to outer layer of skin in the cold (happens quicker when the temps are lower), a third with high moisture content on the skin from sweat soaked garments, and finally pressure (ie from an elastic waistband) seems to play a role.  it may result from a combination of these or some other unmentioned process, but it happens none-the-less.  i'm used to it so think little of it.  it was new to tom in the arrowhead and just another lesson in normal bodily changes under extreme and prolonged efforts.
  3. Reflux:  This is my least favorite.  After a big race, and sometimes during (depending on effort and length), i always get mild reflux.  maybe the acid balance in my stomach is off - certainly it's being screwed with alot - eating for energy maintenence during activity when blood flow is minimzed to the digestive organs and then gorging during an hour or overnight break certainly requires lots of adjustment.  In any case, it sucks.  After the arrowhead i started pounding the real food - soup, cookies, etc - there seemed no end to my appetite - but the pace at which i could consume was limited by my tolerance for the discomfort.  I'd forgotten about this little fun side effect as well until after the race, when tom and i seemed to notice it simultaneously.  luckily, the psychological reward of finishing far overshadowed the annoyance of the reflux.
  4. The second hand moves faster the longer you're racing
  5. Mouth sores: The longer the race, the worse this is.  The harder you race, the worse it is too.  race food has lots of ascorbic acid, citric acid, sugar, etc - constant consumption of these and the fact that if you're really going hard you're probably not stopping to brush - add up to be torturous on your gums and tongue.  after primal quest i had such bad sores that i couldn't eat without severe pain for weeks and lost 15 pounds.  After the arrowhead, partly because i consumed less race food and some real food, the problem was limited to swollen gums and a tender roof of my mouth that made eating uncomfortable but not impossible.  Not sure how tom fared with this one.
  6. Severe time dilation:  this one's my favorite hallmark of a big race.  if you were to go out right now and bike for an hour, it would probalby feel like an hour.  at the end of the arrowhead, an hour felt like 10 minutes.  we developed a schedule that we'd stop to eat and drink every sixty minutes - spending about 5 minutes stopped before pressing on.  although this left 55 minutes between stops, the stops seemed to come right on top of each other.  In comparison to the first 45 minutes of the race, which seemed to take forever, this is a welcome feature of the ultra-endurance effort.  I mean if every 45 minutes seemed like that first 45 minutes, the mental aspect of the race would certainly be more daunting.  The brain, thankfully, seems to make this change quite naturally and seamlessly - and i've always noticed this effect during  my long events.
There's the list - if you're out there making an effort at a longer race, you now know what to expect!

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