Racing with Vitamin I

800px-Ibuprofen_3D_ModelA recent New York Times article asked the question, “Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?”

The short answer is no, unless your suffering from “inflammation and pain from an acute injury.”

The article discusses ibuprofen use at the Western States 100-mile run.

Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories. The ibuprofen users also showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.

These findings were “disturbing,” Nieman says, especially since “this wasn’t a minority of the racers.” Seven out of ten of the runners were using ibuprofen before and, in most cases, at regular intervals throughout the race, he says. “There was widespread use and very little understanding of the consequences.”

Endotoxemia? Ah, no thanks.

Years ago another runner shared a supposed racing secret: Taking a couple ibuprofens before running a marathon helps reduce inflammation during the race.

I tried it before running Boston in 2002. Although I ran well, my muscles were no less sore than after other marathons.

I took ibuprofen before a few more running races but eventually stopped. There was nothing to gain and research was showing that taking it could slow the body’s natural recovery process (also noted in the NYT article.)

But there’s also another danger to popping ibuprofen. If you become dehydrated, you could suffer from renal failure where your kidneys  shut down. This is really stressed at the Leadville races since dehydration is more likely during endurance events at high altitudes.

Near the end of this year’s Leadville run, I did take two acetaminophen (Tylenol) for my ankle injury/inflammation. Acetaminophen can also produce the renal failure when dehydrated so I made sure my system fully hydrated.

After the race I relied more on ice to reduce inflammation. It seems to work far better than ibuprofen or acetaminophen — and it doesn’t help put bacteria in your bloodstream.



The Race Across the Sky

It’s a little hard to believe how popular the Leadville bike race has become.

I called Cullen Watkins back in 1996 to see if he’d want to do some 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado. He said, “yeah” so we sent in our entries.

We took the race for granted, just showed up, never bothered to pre-ride any of the course — how hard could it be? — and it kicked our butts. We kept coming back year after year and bringing more Michigan racers into the Leadville family.

And now after a few Leadvilles with top Tour de France pros, including Lance Armstrong, there’s now a movie in the works.

Who’d a thunk?


Strains, Pains, and Belt Buckles

leadville-logo“I believe that if you set out on an adventure and you’re absolutely convinced you are going to be successful, why bother starting?” — Sir Edmund Hillary

The temperature was in the mid-40s at the start of the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 run.  I was one among more than 500 fidgety runners trying to stay loose while thinking about the big race ahead.

Then at 4 AM, the shotgun was fired and we were off, heading downhill and out of town under beautiful starry skies.

The first five miles are mostly gravel roads, which are great to warm up on. Then there are a couple steep, rocky climbs before we start on 8 miles of rolling Turquoise Lake singletrack.

Somewhere along the trail, I get passed by a real quick woman wearing knee high white socks. I thought it was a hot fashion statement, but they’re compression socks. Many of the ultra-runners were wearing them. They apparently improve circulation and speed recovery.

The first aid station, Mayqueen is at mile 13.5 and I’m in 58th place. Not bad. I’m trying to start a little slower than in years past.

As planned, I don’t stop and continue on the Colorado Trail, climb Hagerman’s Pass, run down the very steep Powerline descent and eventually head into the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 23.5). The temperature is really starting to warm up, so I remove my arm warmers. I also try eating a Balance bar for protein but it takes me forever to finish it off while running.

After 30 miles, I arrive at the Box Creek aid station. So far, it’s been an uneventful race. I don’t feel fast but I’m doing fine. The sun is really coming out in full force and making this a hot race — which I typically don’t do well in. Anticipating that, I’m starting to consume about 2 electrolyte (salt) tablets per hour.

During this section, some older, skinny gentleman catches up to me. He’s got a thin bead of snot between his nose and lip. As he passes me, he looks back at my crotch. Then again.  Then a third time.

“Dude, can I help you?”

He responds that he is just trying to read my race number. At Leadville, returning racers are assigned numbers based on their finish the previous year.

“I’m number 120.”

Fine, it was a suitable excuse for the look backs, but wipe your nose, runner.

At mile 37 the race became a whole lot more eventful. I turned my right ankle hard while stepping on some small boulders. I hear a few pops and nearly fall to the ground. I start limping along the trail and swearing (only as a means to relieve pain. Uh-huh.) Am I going to finish now? I was so convinced at the start. Damn it, Hillary!

My limp turns to a shuffle as I press on. While the trail is very narrow, my sprained ankle is on the upslope side of the trail, so there’s less chance of my rolling it again. On the descents I trying keeping my right foot angled outward, again to reduce the chance for more damage.

Eventually I hobble into Twin Lakes aid station at mile 39.5. I track down a race medic and get my ankle wrapped. She does a great job. It’s really tight but she assures me it’ll loosen up over the next 60 miles.

I’d started this race in running shoes because most of the early course sections include gravel roads, paved roads, and Jeep trails. In looking back, perhaps that wasn’t the best idea since road shoes can be less stable than trail shoes. No matter, I grab my trail shoes from my drop bag, pull them on, and head back out onto the race course.

During a big river crossing, I wash the salt residue from my face and reapplying sun screen. The cold water feels great.

Next up? A 3,600 foot climb up Hope Pass. Fortunately the wrapped ankle doesn’t feel too bad when heading upward.

However, the descent off of the mountain is another story. Going down super steep and rocky descents requires a lot of ankle strength. I stop often to let other runners pass.

Another racer’s video from the 2009 event

Once off the mountain and into the Winfield aid station (mile 50), a spectator yells, “Keep your chin up!” I stop in my tracks and ask, “Really? Do I look that bad?”

Apparently, yes.

I’m overheating in the hot sun. The race volunteers have started measuring our weight at each stop to make sure we don’t get too dehydrated. I’ve lost 5 pounds in 10 miles, which doesn’t seem to phase them. I eat some warm watermelon and half a PB & J before starting the second half of the race.

I think the climb back over Hope Pass is perhaps the toughest part of the race. It’s a long, steep, hot struggle uphill. Then, just as you clear the tree line, you look up and see the tiny human ants still higher up on the Pass and realize you have a long ways to go.

I really thought about dropping out but I then I’d have to justify it on this blog and Facebook. And my long term goal is to get 10 run finishes. Dropping out only prolongs that and this race isn’t getting easier.

So I press on and make it up, over then back downhill into Twin Lakes. Here I see my friends Kevin and Shelby Bauman who happened to be nearby during the race. More warm watermelon, another half PB & J, and I’m off.

The sun is behind the mountains now and my headlamp is on low. For some reason, I’m feeling pretty good. Perhaps everyone else has just slowed down to my speed. I’m not running fast, but I’m consistent and passing other runners.

In and out of the Oak Creek aid station and I’m back on the road segments. My Nathan water pack had been leaking a little, but I wasn’t losing too much. But now the drink valve (aptly called the BiteMe™ valve) comes off and won’t go back on. Nice. I suffer for a few miles without water.

At the Fish Hatchery, I sit down and drink hot veggie soup with noodles and cold watermelon. Yes, it’s getting cold out, so I pull my arm warmers back on along with gloves. I’ve got 8 hours to finish, so unless the wheels fall off during the final marathon, I should finish before the 30 hour cutoff.

At this point I’d gone through my entire stash of electrolyte tablets, about 30. Not wanting to take chances, I successfully begged some tablets from a helpful crew.

Now the final mountian climb is before me — the Powerline. It’s not crazy steep, but it’s a total tease. There are many false peaks that make you think you’re done climbing when you’re not.

Near the top of one peak, I look back to admire the long bobbing line of lights climbing behind me.

Perhaps it’s the heat and everyone drinking more, but there seems to be more urine and vomit along the trail this year. The former is from the talented runners who can “go” as they continue walking. They leave a long damp streak on the trail. At one point I comment to a nearby runner about the length of one streak. The urinator must have had an ultra-bladder. Impressive.

Once over the peak, it’s a quick downhill run to the Colorado Trail. Last year my headlamp batteries died here. This year I’m using two lights, one on my head and one in my hand. I’ve brought spare batteries just in case, too.

My Princeton Tec LED headlamp has a bright mode which really lights up the trail. It’s pretty amazing for such a light piece of hardware. But, the problen with headlamps is there are no shadows. Without shadows, the human brain has a more difficult time determining the trail surface irregularities. For that reason I’m carrying a very bright SureFire G2 LED flashlight. The combo works great as I pass other runners on the toughest part of the trail as if it were daylight.

The final aid station is Mayqueen and I don’t stay here long with just 13.5 miles to go.

My ankle wrap led to blistering and swelling during the Leadville Trail 100

Actual post-race footage

At this point my foot pain is really starting to increase. Stuffing that ankle bandaging and swollen foot into my running shoe isn’t good. I’ve got 4.5 hours to finish, so I mostly hike the trail.

The sun soon rise over Turquoise Lake and there’s a single scull rowing across the relatively smooth lake. And no, it wasn’t a hallucination — not this year.

With four miles to go, Charlie from Boulder starts running with me. He’s not in the race, but is thinking about 2010. He’s asking me a bunch of questions about the run, training, etc. He talks about his job where they produce material flow sensors that among other things can accurately determine the amount a fuel loaded into large navy vessels. The things you learn at mile 98…

Off the boulevard, a left, a right, one hill, and there it is. The finish line. One can’t help choking up a little. There are cheering spectators all along this final stretch. I pick it up to run across the finish line. Race promoter Merilee puts a finishing medal around my neck and  gives me a hug as I say “Your race kicked my butt.”

With just 23 minutes left before the cutoff, it was my slowest finish. I head to the medic tent and find the woman who wrapped my ankle 60 miles ago. She was very pleased if not surprised to see me there. I held up my medal and thanked her for helping me finish.

As I hobble towards my car, I cheer on the other runners still finishing. (275 runners finished in total.)

I drive a couple blocks (only stalling once!) to a gas station and buy a 20 pound of ice. I drive to the award ceremony building, lay the ice across my quads and fall asleep.

Two hours later, I wake up, walk over to the awards ceremony and pick up my buckle and custom sweatshirt.

My fourth finish is not pretty but it’s official and it’s over.

Just six more to go.


Last minutes updates before the big race

Atop Mount Royal in Frisco, ColoradoThe shotgun will be fired in downtown Leadville at 4 AM tomorrow to start the Leadville 100-mile trail run.

My wake up alarm is set for 2 AM. Ugh.

I believe there are about 460 runners registered, including 7 men in the  70 and up category. Impressive!

I think I’m ready to go. For the first time, I am doing this race unsupported. No pacers and no support crew. (Okay, my friends Kevin and Shelby will stop by to cheer me.)

Going solo means I have to rely on my drop bags as well as the food and water at the aid stations.

Having five drop bags along the course has really forced me to be more organized and prepared. Each drop bag has specific food item (energy gel, protein bars, salt tablets), extra clothes, and sometimes spare  running shoes. One bag contains my headlamp, too.

And speaking of headlamps, I’m looking to not repeat last year’s failure when my batteries died at around 4 AM. Luckily some other racers let me share a light. This year I have a superlight LED flashlight in addition to the headlamp. Together they should get me through the night.

This year I am also using a new hydration system from Nathan. It’s designed for ultra-runners and carries up to 70 ounces of water. The pack is comfortable to run in and it doesn’t slosh much. It also has easily accessible pockets for my gear and spare jacket. My only concern is some reviews say it’s prone to leak. So far, mine has not.

This year’s race comes with both positive and tragic news.

First, the positive: the weather looks great, if not a little too warm with a forecasted high of 72F. They are predicting a full sun, and at mountainous altitudes, that can make things real warm. I am sure to carry my sunscreen, plenty of water and salt tablets.

The tragic news is an Army Blackhawk helicopter crashed Wednesday on Mount Elbert, just outside Leadville. Four were killed. With the investigation ongoing, a portion of the run course has been re-routed.

Hopefully my next entry  will end on a more positive note and with the news of a decent finish.

Good night!


Training for Leadville in a flat town

Stairs at Ren CenOnce again I’m out in Colorado just days away from the Leadville Trail 100-mile  running race.

This is my fourth time in this race. The first was in 2002 when I had my best finish and broke the 25 hour mark to earn a gold belt buckle. I notoriously undertrained for the race and averaged only 15 miles of running prior to race day.

I returned in 2007 with more training mile but finished much slower. That didn’t make too much sense. 2008 was slower still, but at least I could blame that on the seemingly endless rain and snow storms.

But one thing I did notice is I was much better at hiking up steep hills in 2002. I didn’t do any hill training but my home office was in the basement. I climbed my basement stairs everyday. Did that help?

When I moved my home office out of the basement, I wasn’t doing nearly as many stairs.

So this year I tried something new. Once or twice a week I went to the RenCen and climbed stairs. There are roughly 70 flights of 16 steps — or about 700 feet. I’d take the elevator back down. I climbed 2-3 times from bottom to top.

I really couldn’t climb more than that due to the heat. The stairwells are very warm and get warmer the higher you climb.

There’s a nice ice cream shop in the Wintergarden that provided my motivation.

Will this special training help this year? We’ll know in less than a week.

I did climb about 1,300 feet today to Mount Royal and it felt pretty darn good.


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