Monday, April 20, 2009

Diablo 50-Miler number 5

You know what the lamest part about running ultras in extreme heat is? The shower afterward. You spend all day sweating out salt and chafing in as many as four places (anus, thighs, nipples, armpits) and then you hobble your way into in the shower, and the water washes all the salt on you into the open wounds. It's like the Macaulay Culkin aftershave scene in Home Alone, only with more expletives.

I ran the Diablo 50-Miler for the fifth consecutive year yesterday, and managed to take over 50 minutes off my previous best time, finishing in 12:39, despite it being 90 degrees. The race almost immediately goes on singletrack, creating a long singe-file line of people trudging up the steep slope. After climbing straight to the top of Eagle Peak, the single track drops off steeply. Steep technical downhills are my favorite part of running and probably my relative strength, in that I love to bomb down stuff where other people might pick out individual steps. So this year, for the first time, I started near the very front of the pack, in the first 15 runners, so that I would be able to let loose on this section instead of getting caught behind more sensible, cautious people. Only I didn't really slow down after that. I reached Rock City the first time (mile 24.5) in 5 hours. If I'd managed to keep that pace the entire 50 miles, well, I'd be insane and I would've maybe won the race. To make a long story short, I slowed down, puked, didn't really bomb the last 8 mile downhill section like I normally love to do, but still managed to finish before dark for the first time.

Some thoughts and gear and technique and stuff:
  • Bottles vs. Hydration Pack
I feel like the extra weight of a hydration pack slows me down, especially on climbs, so I just used my Ultimate Direction strapped hand bottles. At first I thought I should totally get the larger 26 oz. ones instead of the 20 oz. ones I currently use, but capacity is not the issue. Even if you fill the bottles full of ice, in 90-degree heat, holding the bottles in your palm, your drinks are grotesquely warm within just a few minutes. I've been told your stomach absorbs cold liquids (55 degrees) quickest, and I really feel that when I drink warm stuff it just sloshes around in my stomach. I should probably just invest in a lighter, better (read: Nathan) hydration pack and use my technique of blowing back into the tube after each sip to prevent the water from baking in the tube.
  • Electrolytes
I feel like, based on a lot of hiking experience, I get by with a lot less water than most people. I'm just a little guy, and I've carried just 3 liters for hot 30-mile waterless stretches and done just fine. Of course, I'll usually cover that stretch in just under a day, so maybe time between water sources is a better measure than distance. I also feel like I don't need as many electrolytes, but I think a lot of people would disagree with me. I currently use Succeed! caps, but I'm not really a huge fan as it seems like a pretty large dose and sort of a shock to the system. I prefer eating bananas and boiled potatoes with salt. On occasions like yesterday when I've been nauseous, people have told me to take more salt, but I think the salty stuff itself tastes nauseating (not yesterday, but in the race where I took the most caps, I literally gagged trying to get the last couple down), and I feel like a good way to tell how much salt you need is by how good it tastes in the moment. You want to take in electrolytes, among other reasons, so you don't die from hyponatremia, but when I've been running in really hot weather, feeling miserable, and possibly not getting enough salt, my infrequent urine has still been very dark (not blood-in-it dark, just yellow dark). Anyway, I should probably see if I like Salt Stick better than Succeed!--less sodium, more potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
  • Training Specificity
Despite all this talk about gear and nutrition, what I really believe in is training specificity. If you want to run very hilly ultras in extreme heat, train by running very hilly ultras in extreme heat. I think I did OK in the race because I have been doing a lot of hilly training, but it's always hotter on Diablo than it is in Berkeley, and yesterday was the hottest day of the year thus far, so I basically didn't do any heat training. I remember the first day of my PCT hike, climbing in the heat out of Hauser Creek I felt horribly nauseous after drinking my water that had been baking in the sun, but I soon got used to it and was fine drinking warm grossness.


  1. But it's got Electrolytes? It's what's plants crave!

  2. Way to go, Garret. Nice PR.

  3. very dark yellow-brown urine after such strenuous activity could quite possibly be due to what is called "march hemoglobinuria", a microangiopathic intravascular hemolysis caused by mechanical stress injury to red blood cells (RBCs) in the capillaries of your feet. Basically, you beat the hell out of your RBCs with all that running, and a bunch of them explode. That releases more heme than normal, which is degraded to biliverdin and then to unconjugated bilirubin. The bilirubin is conjugated in the liver, secreted in bile, converted into urobilinogen by bacteria in the gut, reabsorbed into the bloodstream, and then some of it is filtered by the kidneys and excreted into the urine. Upon exposure to the environment (pissing), the urobilinogen is oxidized to urobilin, which gives the urine a darker yellow-brown color.

    Either that, or you're just really dehydrated and concentrating your urine like crazy, which would just make it very very very yellow (smaller concertrations of urobilin).

  4. I could never carry a pack during races, even 100's, because it felt weird -- interesting how everyone requires a different approach.

    And very much agree about the specific training -- gotta get used to the thing.